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NWSL playoffs: Upset alerts and predictions for 2023 semifinals

Alex Morgan and Jaedyn Shaw celebrate San Diego’s win to capture the NWSL Shield at the end of the regular season. (Abe Arredondo/USA TODAY Sports)

The NWSL semifinals kick off on Sunday, as OL Reign travels to San Diego to take on the No. 1 Wave and Gotham FC goes up against the No. 2 Portland Thorns. The schedule leading up to the second round of the 2023 playoffs has been disjointed, with an international break causing the semifinals to be played two weeks after the quarterfinal matches.

The pause puts each club in a unique position. They’re going to have to manage the tired legs of their international stars while also re-engaging those who haven’t played a competitive match for up to three weeks.

Here’s where each team stands on the momentum scale, and here’s how they can find their way through a semifinal.

No. 1 San Diego Wave

The Wave are in an interesting position going into their first playoff game of the 2023 postseason. They haven’t played a match together since Oct. 15, and they’ve had a number of players away for international duty over the past week. Despite finishing the season as the Shield winners, they haven’t beaten the Reign once in 2023, and the Seattle side has to feel good about a chance at an upset.

All signs, however, point to San Diego having enough positive energy to find their breakthrough against the Reign when it matters most. In their final regular season game, they clinched the team’s first-ever NWSL Shield with a comprehensive win over Racing Louisville. USWNT star Alex Morgan and rising star Jaedyn Shaw scored in that match and carried their momentum into the international break. Shaw, in particular, impressed at the international level, earning her first two caps and scoring her first goal for the U.S. senior team.

Other San Diego mainstays also seem sufficiently played-in despite the break. Kailen Sheridan appeared in one match for Canada against Brazil this week, while Naomi Girma held down the USWNT backline with her usual consistency. Forward Kyra Carusa also scored a huge goal to bolster Ireland in Nations League action. It speaks to San Diego’s roster construction that so many international standouts will be featured in their postseason run, and if manager Casey Stoney can manage tired legs, they have a real shot at playing in the championship game at home.

Megan Rapinoe is playing in her final season for OL Reign. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

No. 4 OL Reign

The Reign enter their semifinal on an unbeaten streak that has extended over a month. They had a big win in their regular season finale, 3-0 over Chicago, and gritted out a cagey match against Angel City in the quarterfinals. The pace of that match never fully opened up, meaning the Reign should have had ample time for recovery over the past two weeks.

But if San Diego is dealing with tired legs, the Reign might have a few players feeling even more fatigued with a short turnaround. Center back Alana Cook played two full 90-minute games with the USWNT, and defensive midfielder Emily Sonnett carried the most minutes at the No. 6 than any of her U.S. teammates. Jess Fishlock played two full matches with Wales, while Quinn and Jordan Huitema both got minutes for Canada. Their consistency in playing time will be an asset, but with little time off since the end of the regular season, manager Laura Harvey may have to get strategic with minutes for some of her key contributors.

The Reign’s capacity to weather the storm is twofold: They have players who didn’t travel for international duty, and their preferred style of play should suit them. Rose Lavelle was allowed to stay with her club over the break, continuing to build her fitness from an injury after making a return in the quarterfinal. Megan Rapinoe also stayed with the Reign after retiring from the USWNT in September. OL Reign plays a pragmatic, methodical tempo, as seen in their quarterfinal win. Their ability to hold onto the ball, retain their shape and keep the game in front of them — rather than turning it into a footrace — will work in their favor.

My pick

San Diego Wave over OL Reign, 1-0

Sophia Smith is back in the mix for the Thorns after recovering from an MCL sprain. (Soobum Im/Getty Images)

No. 2 Portland Thorns

The Thorns might be the most displeased with the postseason format this year, despite earning a quarterfinal bye with their second-straight second-place finish in the NWSL table. Their regular season ended on a sour note — a 5-1 dismantling at the hands of Angel City. The Thorns haven’t played since, and have sat on that defeat for three weeks as they prepare to host quarterfinalists Gotham FC.

Portland’s players called up for international duty had interesting experiences. Defensive midfielder Sam Coffey again struggled to get on the pitch for the USWNT continued, only seeing the field in the second half of the team’s second game. Forward Sophia Smith continued to build minutes in her return from an MCL sprain, playing 45 minutes on Sunday in her longest stretch since the injury. Midfielder Olivia Moultrie, appearing on her first senior team roster, did not register any minutes throughout the break.

The Thorns also have players who will be fighting fatigue. Crystal Dunn started both U.S. games at her less-preferred outside-back position, and key playmaker Hina Sugita will only have a few days to recover after Japan’s Olympic qualifying round in Uzbekistan. Outside back Natalia Kuikka will be dealing with similar travel fatigue after coming back from Finland’s matches in Croatia. While Becky Sauerbrunn returned to the USWNT fold at just the right time for Portland, who struggled defensively in their season finale, the Thorns might be balancing the worst of the “rest or rust” dichotomy.

Gotham players have said they're trying to win a title for Ali Krieger in her last season. (Jonathan Jones/USA TODAY Sports)

No. 6 Gotham FC

Another thing that could concern Portland is Gotham might be the best set up of all semifinalists to carry their momentum into the semifinals. Gotham walked away from their regular season finale somewhat disappointed, settling for a draw against the eliminated Kansas City Current that pushed them into the final playoff spot and out of hosting a game.

But they bounced back with gusto, traveling to North Carolina and blanking the No. 3 seed Courage 2-0 behind goals from Delanie Sheehan and Yazmeen Ryan. The team’s ethos was on full display in the win, with their defending along the frontline wreaking havoc and forcing turnovers that spilled over into goal-scoring chances. Forward Lynn Williams carried that into one game for the U.S. this week, staying in rhythm without pushing into the red zone with too many minutes played. Forward Esther González also got a break during Spain’s final Nations League game this week.

Forward Midge Purce did not see the field for the U.S., and Bruninha was used sparingly as a substitute for Brazil in their friendlies against Canada. But the Gotham backline has remained mostly intact to train with their club. Gotham will have to embrace both an underdog and a road warrior mentality to stay on the West Coast as a finalist, but they have to feel like they have the right group to force an upset.

My pick

Gotham FC over Portland Thorns, 2-1

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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